In the beginning of June we we lost our little commuter car in a rollover accident. Do you like the way I write that so calmly, without even a hint of an exclamation point? Kate, 17, and her 13 year old sister, were driving home from a Homeschool Conference late at night through a canyon known for its slick roads in bad weather. It started to rain and visibility was poor when she hit the rumble strip, then over corrected… There were loud crashing and popping sounds. She smelled smoke. She saw sparks. Fire! Panic. Adrenaline. Get out! Upside down. And as if that wasn’t enough, her door was stuck shut. The passenger window was broken open, so they unbuckled and fell to the roof. Before the car even stopped sliding, or another car had seen them, they had both climbed out and miraculously walked away. Only a scraped knee and a few bruises. The smoke was from the airbag explosives, the sparks from the metal scraping on the asphalt and concrete barrier. The car was destroyed, but for a rollover accident the results were nothing less than miraculous.
A week earlier
I was overwhelmed with school and the hectic busyness of life. The end of year has so many things to finish up with final projects and presentations, organizing everyone for the summer as well as pre-planning next school year… but it was warm and sunny outside. The robins and soil and sunshine were calling to me, but I wasn’t able to answer.
I was stuck inside, literally in the house and in my mind, frantically moving from one thing to the next–willing the depression and anxiety to stay at bay. There was too much going on for those demons. But they always surface when stress is high, when I am not balanced, when the plan is only fuzzy and I am winging things most of the time, reacting rather than responding. The only proactive part had happened several months before when I dreamed up and chose all these projects … But I really don’t want to finish them now. Always when I am in this frenetic place I want to run to something new, a greener pasture. There are dandelions in that new pasture, but I can’t see them from here.
12:30 am. The girls weren’t home yet. It wasn’t Kate’s number but it was definitely her voice, “Dad, I wrecked the car.”
The accident scene was well lit with a long line of flashing lights. Jonathan unrolled our window to the chilly wet air. “We’re the parents.”
“It’s a miracle your girls are alive.” The officer waved us forward and as we drive slowly along, we are met with warm smiles and flashlights waving us onwards. We pass the little black heap of metal, a tow truck is lining up. Disbelieving that this used to be our car.
The whole scene had a spirit of relief and joy and we were warmly escorted through the stopped traffic to the ambulance. The officers and EMTs had come expecting to pull out bodies.
Our girls were both sitting up on the gurney wrapped in old quilts from a stranger’s trunk. They were shaky, but smiling. A little paperwork. One last check for concussions.
When we come so close to the border of life and death we stop to reflect. All the frantic to-dos and overwhelm of busyness turn into a fuzzy background. The things that come into focus are the matters of our inner heart. I’ve lost a child before. I know a mother lives through it. At least she keeps breathing, and eventually she returns to living. But it requires a journey of discovering why you want to keep breathing. What are you living for? This time death, even injury, has been kept at bay. There is a reason, I know. I am awake now. What am I supposed to learn from this? What do I need to do, to change?
Driving home at 2 am, we gave thanks to God. We rehearsed all the details of what had happened. We laughed–it is the preferred alternative to crying because it helps the emotions emerge. Eventually, we talked about what to do next. We could buy another car by scraping together the money so we could pay cash – our rule… This one has to be a 4 door. Two doors was annoying… Yes, another stick shift. They are less expensive to buy and maintain… Jonathan will start looking at reviews…
“What if we try going back to being a one-car family?” It was my voice. “I really want to slow down anyway.”
How in the world could a family of 3 drivers survive with one car? That would be insane. I would be stuck at home most days. What about shopping, field-trips, playdates, appointments, classes, getting together with cousins? Kate goes places too. It would require much more planning, and we are already failing at our planning attempts.
Jonathan, looked over at me. “Do you think we could do that?” The uncertainty clear in his voice.
“School is now out, I don’t have many commitments. It will help me to slow down, get out in the yard more. This seems funny to say but it would force us to live more like we wanted to. We would have to plan and ride bikes to close places.” My own words were still surprising me.
“Well, I guess we are stuck with one car for a while until we find time to research and buy a new one. We’ll just see how long we can procrastinate and make it.” Smile on his face.
What have I started?
“I think we could make it with one car” Kate chimes in. I am guessing she doesn’t have much desire to drive after tonight.
When we moved to our little house 2 years ago, we purposely looked for a location central to much of what we do, so we could walk and ride bikes more. It was a healthier, happier, simpler, slower way to do things. An ideal we had fallen in love with. The first couple months we did ride bikes quite a bit, but as life got busy, and the weather turned cold, we reverted back to driving, and many of our bikes fell into disrepair. In the chaos of this spring–only our 11 year old son was riding a bike.
Now Jonathan and I decided to try something crazy – go back to a 1 car family. We wanted to stick it out for the long haul. We hadn’t been a one car family since we moved to Utah more than 10 years ago. Everything in Utah is so spread out in suburban sprawl, that a car for each driver seems a necessity. Dad takes one to work all day, Mom has one for ferrying children around. In our modern world don’t you need a car for every driver? Most families we know with a teen driver have 3 cars.
We were quite proud of our brave decision to just keep one car, knowing it would help us plan ahead, bike more, and simply slow down. It was an artificially manufactured hardship. Jonathan had been using this phrase a lot to describe how to prevent spoiling children in our prosperous, have-everything-instantly world. By choosing a difficult situation we could create a setting for growth, force ourselves out of a comfort zone, and have more required of us than our modern world usually demands. I think it could be called suffering on purpose!
Our world demands much from us both mentally and emotionally, but it is easier to develop the stamina for hard things when we practice in a physically demanding arena. A tangible challenge is easier to see progress in. The muscle memory to do hard things is developed more slowly and subtly in the emotional realm than in the physical one.
Keeping only one car was a way to put ourselves–adults–into an artificially manufactured hardship. We needed some emotional growing up.
Then two short weeks later…
This is part 1 of a 5 part series. To find out what happens subscribe at the right.